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Pacific Ministers in Cabinet: Who’s in, who’s out and what does it mean for us?

Marama T-Pole chats to journalism academic and political commentator Richard Pamatatau about Jacinda Ardern’s “almost pitch-perfect” Cabinet line-up, which includes three Pacific people inside of Cabinet and one outside of Cabinet in positions of power.

Poto Williams has been promoted to Cabinet, leapfrogging Kris Faafoi in rankings to number 10. She is the first Police Minister of Pacific descent.

“Poto is very lowkey and very under the radar. That is one of her strengths – she’s a ‘get things done’ person,” says Pamatatau.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and new Police Minister Poto Williams.

Carmel Sepuloni and Kris Faafoi continue inside of Cabinet, while Aupito William Sio continues outside of Cabinet as Minister for Pacific Peoples.

“A lot of people are disappointed that Aupito is outside of Cabinet, but if we think about this in terms of a Pacific way of looking at things, we know that the person who steers the vaka is in the stern,” says Pamatatau.

“His influence is bigger than whether he’s inside or outside of Cabinet.”

Leading the cabinet’s Pacific presence at number six, Sepuloni continues her roles in Social Development, Disability Issues and ACC with one new addition, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage.

“She has developed and gone from strength to strength, and while people might not agree with her approach at times, she does have control of things and obviously has the trust of the Prime Minister,” says Pamatatau.

Notably, Pacific MPs hold hefty portfolios in the refresh, with Williams as Police Minister, Sio as Courts Minister and Faafoi as Justice Minister.

Kris Faafoi, Aupito William Sio and Carmel Sepuloni

“That’s showing that if you’re an ‘islander’, you don’t just have to do cultural things, you don’t just have to do things to do with the islands and your ethnicity. You can represent all New Zealanders and act in a way that is going to influence the lives of all New Zealanders,” says Pamatatau.

In another strong move, Jacinda Ardern has made Nanaia Mahuta Foreign Affairs Minister – the first Māori woman to take on the portfolio.

“This is a step in the right direction, and it’s interesting that Aupito is also Associate for Foreign Affairs, so there’s a strong brown team running that stuff.”

Notably missing from the Cabinet line-up is former Minister of Building and Construction Jenny Salesa. Instead, she will become a presiding officer supporting the Speaker of the House.

“Clearly the Prime Minister has seen areas of shortcoming and has decided that Jenny Salesa is not to be a minister.”

Watch the full talanoa with Richard Pamatatau above.

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